By Aamir Qayoom
The recollection of emotions and imaginations bring back the images of security guards with heavy boots and students enjoying chit chat around central canteen of JMI University, where sanitary pads with messages were seen tightly hanging from and hugging trees. The bold messages like ‘period blood is not impure your thoughts are’ did manage to gain a lot of buzz in feminist circles. Little did one expect that the film Padman will take the issue as visual therapy to recondition mental geographies of people about menstruation taboos! Little did we prognosticate that it will take menstruation away from whispers, and promote thinking to stay free from wry smiles of awkwardness!
The film is directed by R. Balki and the story is inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a jugaad technologist, freethinker, and activist from Tamil Nadu, who introduced low-cost sanitary pads. This visual text focuses on Pad Man and his dream of creating awareness about menstrual hygiene. It focuses on de-mythifying the idea of menstruation as ladies’ problem. The film speaks volumes about the menstruation and myths of impurity and untouchablity associated with it. The film magnetically speaks against the culture of shame and impurity associated with menstruation.
This film as visual text promotes de-schooling of an age-old belief system of people around menstruation. It tries to bolster and catalyse the idea of celebrating biological essentialism of women, where menstruation has roots. It is a film with womanistic consciousness to highlight the naturalness of menstruation as a physical function of female bodies. The remarkable feature of this film text is that it tries to usher new ideas of Sheroic consciousness and Gynocritical imagination through Pad Man as hero. The film pushes the discourse of menstruation from ‘between the legs’ to ‘between the ears’ to promote rethinking on menstruation taboos.
The Pad Man translates pains from the mind of his wife and his home to promote consciousness about the use of sanitary napkins and need for proper counselling about menstruation heath. In one of the circumlocuted references Pad Man highlights need to understand the meaning of having a normal period pain and living in perpetual pain, when a woman struggles with dysmenorrhea where she faces a painful menstruation cycle. It tries to push forward the idea of understanding the dynamics of having a womb. A dialogue in Linglish – ‘half hour men bleed like women they will die’ – highlights the need for men to be sensitive about the menstruation cramps. The catharsis from Pad Man in his UN women speech promotes a gender sensitive thinking to rethink on use of not only sanitary pads but also the knotty stereotypes associated with that.
The central issue of this visual discourse is to understand menstruation and its multiple contours. However, a shift after intermission shows women celebrating their womanhood with pride. The Shero in the visual text is shown as an important character, who makes Pad Man a hero by her smart and intelligent rural marketing and handling of international companies that were interested in Pad Man. It further transcends the menstruation debate to bolster thinking on constructions of feminity and masculinity. Pari’s father shows childhood pictures of Pari to Lakshmi and says how he learnt to be a mother for his daughter: “Mard hone ka mazaa apne andar ki aurat ko jaga ke hi aata hai” (You can understand what it means to be a man by invoking the woman in you) has a deep meaning. It echoes the Jungian discourse of presence of ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ in our personalities that make us think of ourselves with a blend of feminity and masculinity, if hegemonic discourses of sexuality and gender are deconstructed.
Away from the charged and electric debates of these visual texts lies a lost paradise on earth, Kashmir, that is unfortunately reduced to a political laboratory where the ambiance of un-freedom and political alienation has led to neologisms like ‘half-widows and ‘half-mothers’. It’s a land where stories of rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomad girl Asifa, who has a dark blanket before her eyes, have shaped fractured and poisonous memories. The questions raised in Padman on sexuality and gender sensitisation have impediments in conflict zones like Kashmir, where conflict and patriarchy collaborate to give secondary importance to women’s empowerment. This is a place, where a mother does not know whether her daughter/son will return at night or not due to conflict; where issues of gender sensitisation fail to gain limelight due to political uncertainty. There is an urgent need of peaceman to promote the discourse of padman in Kashmir.
As I conclude, there are some questions that need answers. How long will it take all brothers to buy sanitary pads for sisters as a sign of gender sensitiveness? How long a pharmacist will not cover a sanitary pad like drugs to be smuggled? For how long will the girls in some cultures be kept in confinement to welcome their first period? For how long will it be viewed as a mucky female disease? When will we have easy access to sanitary pads without keeping it a hush hush affair? For how long will there be whisper about Whisper? How long will it take for us to Stay-free from such horrendous realities?
Aamir Qayoom is a research scholar of Comparative Literature, Delhi University. He also works as a research assistant for University of Western Australia (UAW). His work has been published in The Quint, Literary Herald, Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Youth Ki Aawaz, and Kashmir Reader. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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